The town of Weymouth is getting louder in its opposition to Spectra Energy’s proposal to build a natural gas compressor station by the Fore River Bridge – with town councilors now joining the mayor, their state legislator, and local residents who’ve crowded meetings and rallied weekly at the foot of the bridge.
Dozens of residents raised objections to the plan in late March at a four-hour hearing in the town before the state Department of Environmental Protection. And more than 60 opponents crowded an April 6 hearing of the Weymouth Conservation Commission, which will decide whether the project meets local and state wetlands requirements. The panel continued the hearing until May 25 to get more information from Spectra about the project’s impact on wetlands and wildlife.
“We’re not going to go away,” said Susan Harden of the group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station.
The Town Council joined the fray on April 4, voting to ask both the state and local Conservation Commission to deny permits for the station.
While the state and local environmental agencies have jurisdiction over portions of the project -- to make sure it meets air and water quality rules -- the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has the ultimate say. Local officials said the US agency can waive local requirements if the energy needs of the project are compelling.
The station is part of the Texas-based company’s $1 billion plan to upgrade and expand its pipeline systems to bring in more natural gas from its network to New England and Canada. The company has said the project is needed to meet consumer demand.
According to documents filed by Spectra, the natural gas is pressurized as it travels through the interstate pipeline system. Along the way, friction and changes in geography slow the gas flow and reduce the pressure, so the gas needs to be periodically compressed at strategic locations along the route in compressor stations.
Spectra looked at seven locations for a compressor station in Eastern Massachusetts – including three in Weymouth, one in Franklin, one in Holbrook, one on Long Island in Boston Harbor, and one on Children’s Island, off the coast of Marblehead.
The other Weymouth locations were next to a CVS store on Washington Street and near Pond Meadow Park, according to Town Councilor Rebecca Haugh.
The company said it chose the 16-acre site on the Fore River because it was closest to the existing pipeline and posed the fewest environmental impacts at the lowest cost. The compressor station would take up 4 acres of the property, which was used in the past for storing coal and oil.
The additional pipeline costs needed to reach the other sites would make the entire expansion project “economically infeasible,” Spectra said in its documents.
But Weymouth residents and officials argue that compressor stations usually are built in rural areas to minimize any potential impact from pollution or explosions.
Opponents say the Fore River location is too close to homes and commuters for a compressor station -- and in what Mayor Robert Hedlund called an “already over-industrialized’’ area next to numerous existing hazardous sites such as the Citgo marine petroleum terminal.
Hedlund cited a litany of other objections in a March 15 letter to Secretary Matthew Beaton of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
Spectra has submitted its plans in two separate projects called the Atlantic Bridge Project and Access Northeast Project. The first project includes construction of the Fore River compression station, and the second doubles the size of the station and adds 4 miles of pipeline in Weymouth.
Hedlund asked Beaton to review the projects together in a joint environmental impact report. House Majority Leader Ronald Mariano, who represents Holbrook and portions of Quincy and Weymouth, made a similar request.
Katie Gronendyke, a spokeswoman for Beaton’s office, said “because the request was submitted by a third party,” it was forwarded to Spectra for comment and additional information. Once Spectra responds, the state Department of Environmental Protection will issue an advisory opinion within 20 days, she said.
She noted that the public has until April 19 to comment on the project by writing to Frank Taormina, MassDEP Waterways Regulation Program, 1 Winter St., 5th Floor, Boston, MA 02108 or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Harden said her residents group, which formed a year and a half ago, will continue to keep up the pressure on the various regulatory agencies, including the local Conservation Commission.
Mary Ellen Schloss, the town’s conservation administrator, said she worried about frustrating people who want to talk about the project’s impact on public health and safety -- subjects outside the purview of the commission.
“We have to stick with the fish and the wildlife, the wetland resources,” she said.
Town Councilor Thomas Lacey said people already are frustrated with the process.
“It’s extremely frustrating to watch [Spectra’s representatives] dance around questions,” he said. They gave “a four-minute presentation of a very complex project impacting the South Shore and North Weymouth, and then four hours of smoke and mirrors and tap dancing.”
Hedlund also expressed concern whether the town’s issues would be addressed.
“We’re hopeful, but the odds are tough given the process,” he said. “It’s set up in a way that you really are at the mercy of FERC. And their track record is they approve” projects.
Johanna Seltz can be reached at email@example.com.